After decades of population loss, job loss and disinvestment, parts of Philadelphia are on the rise again. Our population is experiencing slow but steady growth, our housing market and unemployment rate are showing signs of improvement, and new high-end development projects are transforming Center City and University City. Growth and development are reaching some of our neighborhoods too, with Northern Liberties, Francisville, Point Breeze, Passyunk Square and other areas seeing an explosion in new market-rate home construction, and opening up of new shops and restaurants.
As much as we need to celebrate and encourage redevelopment, the enthusiasm about this renewed Philadelphia can feel like it’s about a different city if you are one of the many Philadelphians still struggling, or live in a neighborhood fighting decline. Some moderate-income neighborhoods that have been stable for decades are seeing decreasing homeownership rates, property values flattening or declining, and properties that are staying vacant for too long. OpOther neighborhoods are still reeling from decades of devastation where poverty rates are persistently high, and low wages means too many Philadelphians are paying an unsustainably high percentage of their income on housing. Crumbling buildings and empty lots can be found in every neighborhood, and are magnets for garbage and crime. Vacant storefronts and poor property conditions on our commercial corridors frustrate small businesses that work hard to contribute to the local economy. Long time homeowners and renters live in properties that are becoming uninhabitable due to inadequate maintenance.
It’s imperative that Philadelphia nurtures new market-rate development and investment in order to strengthen our tax base, turn vacant properties into vibrant spaces, and make our city a world-class destination. But we must also recognize that the new private investment transforming some of our neighborhoods does not automatically “trickle down” and benefit those who are most economically disadvantaged or struggling to remain in the middle class. We must build the pipes and direct resources toward our neighbors and communities who have historically been hurt most when our city declined, and left out when things have improved. Without such a strategy, we will deepen the already inexcusable inequalities and economic segregation that exist today, and we’ll hamper the economic stability of our city and region for generations to come.